“In the future, we will have our own AMG-specific fully-electric architecture,” says Jochen Herman, CTO of Mercedes-Benz AMG in the automaker’s first Digital Expert Talk in India
The Mercedes-Benz Digital Expert Talk for the Indian media provided a platform to delve into the fascinating world of automotive innovation. The focus of this inaugural edition was on the notable launches of 2023, particularly the AMG GT 63 S E Performance. During this discussion, we spoke to Mercedes-AMG's Chief Technology Officer Jochen Hermann, who addressed questions about the GT 63 S E's performance, AMG hybrid technology, and the company's overall strategic vision.
Q: Mercedes-Benz AMG has followed a ‘one-man, one-engine’ philosophy. What happens to this philosophy after the dawn of the company’s hybrid era?
A: Yeah, that's a tricky and, to be honest, a very good question. In the powertrain layout, we still have a combustion engine where we incorporate this one man, one engine, and it's a pure and essential benefit of AMG. AMG customers love that one-man, one-engine philosophy, and to be honest, we don't really have an answer at this point in time as to what we can add to an electrified powertrain. Of course, we spend a lot of time thinking about what it could be, and to be honest, if I had an answer, I would not give it to you at this point in time. Because, as I said, people love that, and we think it's really something that makes an AMG an AMG, we will have to have an answer to that. But it will not be easy to come up with an answer.
Q: As we move towards electric cars, how can AMG overcome the challenge of replicating the emotional sound of a V8 engine? Is it possible to create a synthesised sound that truly captures the essence of a V8, which has been an integral part of AMG's identity for the past 20 to 25 years?
A: Yes, I totally agree; I also heard that sound is something that people love if they talk about their AMG, but I think it's not only the sound itself; it's also that emotional experience. So, in my theory, if you ask somebody, ‘What do you love about your AMG?’ a lot of people will say, ‘Oh, it's the sound’. Yes, maybe in the first perspective, it is the sound, but what is more behind that is that emotional part that you have when you drive an AMG or when you are in an AMG. So, driving an AMG is not only the sound itself; it's that you have a V8, and if you drive a car in a very dynamic way, it's a holistic experience. It's not only the acceleration that you feel or the steering feel that you have; it's also what you see with your eyes and what you hear with your ears. What I'm saying and trying to explain is that it's a holistic emotional experience. So even people say, ‘Oh, it's the sound’. I think it's more, and that kind of more is what we are working on for fully electric cars in this car. It's easy; you'll still have the V8 sound in the future. As far as we are working on that one man, one engine thing and what it could be for the electrified future, we are also working on specific sound experiences, and it will be more than just sound, and we have very different approaches at this point of time for our future AMG electric architecture, and what I think you have to give to a customer is again the holistic experience, so usually I'd say we will not fake a V8 sound, but for example, we have driven our fully electric battery testing vehicles just a few weeks ago in Sweden, and you realize if there is an electric vehicle without any acoustic response, you don't really know what the car is. So, I really think some kind of sound is also necessary for you as a driver in certain driving situations, while also bringing back that emotional part that you would lose without any sound. But on the other side, really, one advantage of an electric vehicle is that in certain driving situations, you can go without sound, like when you're on your daily drive to work and somebody has an important phone call at that moment. So, I've been excited lately. It's also an advantage of an electric car. So, I really think again here Yes, it's kind of a threat to AMG because people love the V8 sound. But I think we will come up with an answer that gives you back that pure and fully emotional experience, with the added advantage that, in some situations, you don't want to hear any sound. But as I said, with a long answer, that's the second trickiest part that you have to deal with in the future of electrification.
Q: How is an AMG performance vehicle going to serve, create a bridge between your authentic driving pleasure and the performance, and also offer the range that many people are expecting?
A: Yeah. I agree. The range is an important part of fully electric vehicles. However, even in today's AMG with a combustion engine only, people have learned that range is not one of the key performance KPIs of an AMG. What you do is go to the gas station and quickly fill up your tank again. So that's kind of the answer for the future of electric-driven vehicles at AMG. Because if you have a sports car on a fully electric drivetrain, you have to have a very high constant power level, and if you design that into a car, the other benefit is what you get: a high-performance charging vehicle, so that's one answer to that range question. But again, we should not go below certain values in the range. So, there is a value that we cannot be under; as a hygiene factor, we have to make sure that a certain range is always given to a sports car. So, on how you achieve that, by being efficient, like, for example, active aerodynamic parts, is something AMG is very strong at, and of course, that's another performance lever that you have to improve efficiency, for example, on the aerodynamic drag for an electric vehicle. So, what I'm saying is that there are several things that you have to put together to have a very efficient electric car that can, on the other hand, also be very performance-driven on a racetrack, so like active aerodynamics, for example, quick charging, and yes, you need a certain battery size to make sure that you are not under a certain value of the range. But long-range vehicles would probably not be the future for Mercedes AMGs. If people would love to have that, they would rather go for a regular Mercedes.
Q. From a company that was born on the racetrack, the one that started making road-worthy cars has really come a long way as a company that makes performance cars. So, what really lies ahead and what can we expect from the AMG portfolio in the current year? And just to add to that, what has the response been to the AMG GT 63 so far, globally and in India?
A: As you said, we're a company born on the racetrack, and I think that's a very important heritage that we have and will have in the future. We can always fulfil that promise by having a sports car that can be driven on a racetrack. That means, as I said on that pillar before, we are not giving up, for example, combustion engines on the Mercedes AMG side, for example, our AMG SL 63 V8, and even with the newest regulations that will come up for combustion engines, we will make sure that our V8s will be able to fulfil the newest combustion regulations that are expected. Also, what we know from all the markets is that, for example, in Europe, they will have the so-called Euro7, which will probably be close to the China7 and to the latest, newest requirements for the US market, and that basically covers all the world requirements. We know, for example, that in Europe, after Euro 7, there will be no Euro 8. So, what we expect is that if we are able to bring, for example, our V8 into the Euro 7 future in Europe, we will be able to sell the V8 engines as long as there is market demand. So, we are not giving up that part of AMG. But on the other hand, as discussed before, we also have, of course, a very strong path where we offer fully electric vehicles, and the car we'll talk about today, for example, is something in between, which also helps us to make people familiar with an exciting, electrified future. Because for example, if you talk to like hardcore petrol-head AMG fans today, people cannot imagine going electric, but as soon as people have driven for example, the GT 63 SE performance, they will get out of the car and wow that's the coolest AMG, most powerful, the people understand the story behind bringing formula One technology into a car and we have featured in that car that we did not have on a combustion engine only car; so for us, this is also a path or a vehicle, literally speaking, for our people and customers to going into the future and learning that electrification is just an additional performance lever that we have in the future and for example, you can beam on a racetrack like if Lewis Hamilton or George Russell is driving, they have to make a decision, how do they deal with the energy in the battery? So that's another freedom and another thing to play with. That's something that we think is exciting, and it's something only possible if you have an electrified powertrain. So, we really see this car as a transformation car for the customers going into that electrified future, because sooner or later, you have to have fully electric cars, and we think there's a strong market for fully electric sports cars.
Q: In vehicles such as the SE performance, they have a setup in which the hybrid system is primarily used to provide a boost. Do we see a transition period in which the battery's role in place and the powertrain will expand? Can we anticipate that the hybrid AMGs will have a larger battery that will play a role other than this boost?
A: I think in this car, it’s already more than a boost because, of course, it's an energy source for the electric motor, but we do a lot more with this electric motor than just boost. As I said before, recuperation is very important, and actually, the technology of this battery is even more important for the recuperation part. Because, in an electrified future, energy management is far more important than it is for combustion engines alone. So not only is the software important because you are able to deal with the energy that you are wasting while driving, but also regaining the energy is very important, and that's essentially why we go for that technology. So, I really have to say that even in today's car, it's more than a boost. Will batteries grow for the P3 hybrid? Well, in one thing, yes, because in our S class, we will have a larger battery, but for another reason, because of the electrified S class, we think having more driving rage is an appropriate performance index for an S class. For example, this car goes only 12km on electric because we didn't care about the electric range in that really high-performance racetrack kind of car, while in an S Class, the customer wants to have the top-end luxury experience, and we think going on a further electric range is something that we would give the customer the opportunity to do. But generally speaking, in a performance hybrid, the batteries should be as small as possible. That's why we have decided on this size of battery. We think it's enough for a racetrack; it's enough to be a source or a battery with a capacity where you can put in energy while braking and get it out again once you are out of a corner and accelerating. So, we did a lot of simulations and calculations and tried to put the smallest battery possible in that car. So, for a sports car, the battery should always be as small as possible.
Q: What are your and the company's thoughts on e-fuels, because that could be something interesting for a brand like AMG to continue with a carbon-neutral fuel and internal combustion?
A: Yeah, I agree that e-fuel is another opportunity, of course, to come to a more CO2-neutral car fleet. However, as the lead engineer, it's nothing we rely on. For us, it’s important that we have something like zero-emission cars available for that market and to give you a general answer on e-fuels. Yes, if there are e-fuels available, of course, and I really think they have to be made such that you can use existing engines because the huge benefit of e-fuels is also existing cars. So, if your e-fuel requires certain changes to your combustion engine, I think you will fail by supplying that kind of fuel to the market. Because the real benefit of e-fuel is actually that you can reach cars that already exist, which is a huge number of cars. We think it would be an additional opportunity for us to improve our CO2 footprint. We cannot rely on that, because we have to be independent of it.
Q: So you're not really pushing development with e-fuel manufacturers?
A: Not really. I mean, there are activities, and if you look at Formula One, where fuel is very important, we will also go into e-fuel and synthetic fuels in the future. But, if you ask me, I believe it is more marketing for a car manufacturer to speak about e-fuels and push the big oil companies toward e-fuels. That, I believe, must come from within the industry.
Q: What is the current realistic shelf life of this e-performance technology? What does this hybrid technology look like, given that electric vehicles are the unavoidable future for even a brand like AMG?
A: First of all, we just introduced it, so there's no reason to take it off the market in a very short time, and the feedback that we got so far from all the driving events and from the first customers that got that car in certain markets is very positive. Because it's that ultimate combination that answers all the questions, it has an emotional V8 sound attached to an electric motor, which gives it an ultimate acceleration that only an electric motor can provide. So, I really think it's, technology-wise, top-end what you can do on a hybrid, and I think that it's not only like a transformation technology, but for now, I think it's a very good technology that we would want to sell as long as possible and as long as there is a request for it. And of course, with these new cars that we just put on the market, you can be sure there will be one or more that will use that kind of technology, and we also did it, for example, on the C-63 and the new C-class, where we combined that technology with a four-cylinder hybrid, which is the only way to have ultimate performance and increased efficiency. Usually, if you increase performance, you decrease efficiency, and that's why it's a future performance driver that we will keep in the market.
Q: How will you try to differentiate the AMG electric sports cars or supercars from the competition in the future when you do go electric?
A: Acceleration in the future, like 0-100, will probably not be a performance index for a sports car because any car can do that. But if you look into an AMG today and actually in its history, I think it was Shally who came up with that historical perspective. In the history of AMG, we started putting a strong engine into an existing car, and over the last decades, we have improved the driving performance besides the powertrain itself. If you look into today's cars, this car's body is optimized, the chassis and suspension are optimized, and everything in the car is optimized, so it's much more AMG than the powertrain where we come from in the past, and the more you go into that fake electrification, I think the more and more this thriving behaviour of the car itself will be. So, I really think that with what we have done in the last 20 years, going into that driving dynamics, not only acceleration but everything but acceleration is the key to success for the future, and like with several engines in a car, you can do much more, even dynamic road driving experiences, that you can do, so that I have no doubt that we can provide additional performance into a fully electric car.
Q: You stated that the only criterion for supercars would not be 0-100kmph times. So, if you could just sum it up in a few words, what exactly would be the criteria? Would it be acceleration plus handling plus braking plus, plus, what other specific characteristics?
A: While handling definitely would be one of them, the overall performance of the car—my example is, if you take an AMG, no matter if it's fully electric or if it's a combustion engine—the moment you drive the car is like the way the car steers, the way the car brakes, and even at a slower speed, the attachment of the body control, the feedback that you get on the road—all this requires detailed work on suspension, steering, and braking. That's a big differentiation, and that will carry on also to that electric world, and as I said before, within the electric world, where you can put differently with the electric motor with the battery like energy management, for example, if you look at the GT 63, we have put in a lot of software derived also directly from Formula One. Because if you go with an electric car on a racetrack and you do not take care of energy management, how you deploy your battery, how you recuperate with your battery, or how you handle your car, you will not even make one lap. If you do it smartly, you can do several laps. So, I think there are huge opportunities like handling, energy management, software, functionalities, torque vectoring, and all these other activities that we're currently working on, some of which have already been shown in that car. I think these give us enough opportunities to differentiate even in that fully electric era.
Q: A performance car typically has a 50:50 front-to-rear axle ratio. How did you manage to get the weight distribution right in the GT 63 S E performance considering you have an ICE and an electric powertrain on the axles?
A: To be honest, if you take the regular V8 without the electrified rear axle, the weight distribution is not as good as it is here because the V8 engine is much heavier than just so in a regular GT 63; the weight balance is not 50:50; it's like 54 or 53 on the front. But with this approach, where we put in additional weight, for example, the battery weighs around 90kg and the axle electric engine itself is probably around 100 kilograms. So, with that weight distribution, we really come to 50 per cent on each axle, which gives us that benefit in this approach. But of course, the car itself is heavier because we added that battery and that electric engine, but on the other hand, we could put that weight onto the rear axle, which is why we have that balance.
Q: This is the future car, and this is the start of a new chapter. How well are these cars packaged in terms of comfort and convenience, as well as connected features?
A: In the past, if you had a sporty-handling car, comfort was often a compromise. That is the only drawback to that engine's performance, but as we have shown with our newest car, for example, especially in the SL, we came up with completely new systems. For example, we have gotten rid of the torsion bar of the vehicle and put in a hydraulic torsion parcel, so you can have additional comfort on riding performance while changing hydraulically the stiffness of the car and again have an even more performing car for that sporty driving mode. So, I really think that suspension technology has improved a lot in the last couple of years, and there's even more to come where we think we can give you a comfortable car. On the other hand, if you switch your driving mode, you'll get a better-handling car, so I think that can be experienced in our current and upcoming cars.